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How David Bowie Went Mainstream in the 1980sExcerpted from TIMEs David Bowie: His Life on Earth, an 80-page, fully illustrated commemorative edition. Available at retailers and at Goodbye to Ziggy, farewell to the Thin White Duke. I was adopting the characters of

fstage, he told TIME. And then I found that I was living like the character, that the character was slowly evolving and taking over. Hed begun the new decade introverted, burying himself in work, living in Berlin, Kyoto and Sydney and raising his young son following his divorce. After a decade of putting out more than a record a year (a pace fueled, in part, by drugsgoodbye to them too), David Bowie slowed down a bit at the start of the 1980s. It gave the world enough time to catch

up with his wild imagination and come around to his idea that music wasnt something you just listen to. A painter, a mime, an actor, Bowie had dabbled in short-form music video as far back as Space Oddity, well in advance of the advent of MTV. In 1980 he offered artful clips for Fashion and Ashes to Ashes. With its debut on Aug. 1, 1981, the new cable network thoughtfully provided him an outlet for these works, as well as for his next persona: David Bowie, unabashed pop star. How hard could it be to decide to be a Top 40 star and then be one? John Lennon once said to me, Look, its very simplesay what you mean, make it rhyme, and put a backbeat to it, Bowie told Rolling Stone. He was right, man. Get The Brief. Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know right now.

 Thank you! For your security, we've sent a confirmation email to the address you entered. Click the link to confirm your subscription and begin receiving our newsletters. If you don't get the confirmation within 10 minutes, please check your spam folder. Read more: See TIMEs David Bowie cover. He reappeared looking healthyin a boxers getup on the cover of 1983s Lets Dance and performed in immaculate suits and a blond pompadour. Supported by a suite of videos (including one for China Girl deemed too steamy for MTV in its pre-edited form), Lets Dance became his best-selling album and minted millions of new Bowie fans, even if it alienated longtime devotees who mourned the loss of the outsider freak who was once all their own. Guitarist Robert Fripp, who collaborated on 1980s Scary Monsters, put it more pointedly in Rolling Stone when he said (with affection) that of all Bowies personalities, the most prominent one

may have been the shrewdie who keeps his ass covered.  Bowie dominated the video age, more of a piece with Duran Duran and Eurythmics than rockers of his own generation. He labored over his clips, plotting out shots and consulting heavily with the directors. Butand you cant say this about every great 80s videothe songs worked when you closed your eyes, thanks to the rock-and-funk grooves he laid down with producer Nile Rodgers. Bowie generated so much credibility with MTVs audience that he was able to challenge the networks lack of diversity in an interview with VJ Mark Goodman, wondering why it didnt air more African-American artists. As Goodman squirmed, Bowie asked: Do you not find that its a frightening predicament to be in?

Spotlight Story Kobe Bryant Had a Singular Impact on His Game and the World Bryant died in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Sunday, along with his daughter Gianna In the 80s, Bowie was also wealthier than ever. EMI paid him between $10 million and $17 million to make five albums. After Lets Dance, Bowie retreated to Switzerland to work and ski. His follow-ups, 1984s Tonight and 1987s Never Let Me Down, were overproduced and underinspired. Bowie had abandoned the freaks for Lets Dance, and he had no idea how to get them back or how to keep his new Top 40 audience interested. I went mainstream in a major way with the song Lets Dance. I pandered to that in my next few albums, and what I found I had done was put a box around myself, he told an interviewer. It was very hard for people to see me as anything other than the person in the suit who did Lets Dance, and it was driving me madbecause it took all my passion for experimenting away. The Many Faces of David Bowie David Bowie is seen c. 1965. CA—Redferns/Getty Images  David Bowie during a portrait session in 1966 in London.  Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images   David Bowie in his "Ziggy Stardust" guise in June, 1972 in London. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images  Twiggy poses with David Bowie for the cover of his Pin Ups album in 1973 in Paris. Justin de Villeneuve—Getty Images

David Bowie performs c. 1973. Archive Photos/Getty Images From left: Angie Bowie, his son Zowie Bowie (Duncan Jones) and David Bowie, appear at a press conference at the Amstel Hotel on Feb. 7, 1974 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Gijsbert Hanekroot—Redferns/Getty Images    David Bowie is seen with a large barking dog while working on the artwork for his album Diamond Dogs in London in 1974. Terry O'Neill—Getty Images From left: David Bowie, Yoko Ono and John Lennon at the 17th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 28, 1975 in New York City. Ron Galella—Getty Images David Bowie during the filming of The Man Who Fell To Earth in Los Angeles in 1976. Terry O'Neill—Getty Images   Iggy Pop and David Bowie in Germany in March 1977.  Evening Standard/Getty Images David Bowie performs on Saturday Night Live on Dec. 15, 1979 in New York City. NBC/Getty Images From left: Carmine Rojas, David Bowie, and Carlos Alomar perform during the Serious Moonlight tour in 1983 at Wembley Arena in London. Phil Dent—Redferns/Getty Images Paul McCartney and David Bowie backstage at Live Aid on July 13, 1985 in London. Dave Hogan—Getty Images

David Bowie plays an acoustic guitar while being photographed at a press conference in Tokyo on May 19, 1990. AP

Annie Lennox and David Bowie perform "Under Pressure" at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert on April 20, 1992 in London. Kevin Mazur—Getty Images David Bowie onstage at Madison Square Garden for his 50th Birthday Concert in New York City on Jan. 9, 1997. Kevin Mazur—Getty Images David Bowie is seen while being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, Calif. on Feb. 12, 1997. Jim Smeal—Getty Images    David Bowie performs during the Isle of Wight Festival at Seaclose Park on June 13, 2004 in Newport, U.K. Jo Hale—Getty Images   David Bowie performs with Arcade Fire at Conde Nast's 2005 Fashion Rocks Show on Sept. 8, 2005 in New York City. Kevin Mazur—Getty Images

 David Bowie during his las

t live performance on Nov. 09, 2006 in New York City. Kevin Mazur—Getty Images David Bowie attends the 2010 CFDA Fashion Awards at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on June 7, 2010 in New York City.  Andrew H. Walker—Getty Images David Bowie and Iman are seen on April 28, 2011 in New York City. Andrew H. Walker—Getty Images 

David Bowie in 2015. Jimmy King  1 of

23 Advertisement After Never Let Me Down, Bowie embarked on his first tour in five years, hanging a 60-foot spider from the rafters above his elaborately choreographed dancers (including one, Melissa Hurley, who was his girlfriend for a time). When he performed in West Berlin in June 1987, in a city where he and Iggy Pop had once decamped to retreat from drugs and fame, he pulled out his 10-year-old masterpiece Heroes, which deals with a couple kissing just for one day before the Berlin Wall permanently separates them. Bowie knew East Berliners were listening too: We send our wishes to all our friends who are on the other side of the wall. A week later, President Reagan delivered his Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall speech. Two years later, the wall finally fell. We kind of heard that some East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didnt realize in what numbers they would, he told interviewer Bill DeMain. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. Bowie may have been foundering artisticallyhe would soon try to right himself by forming the quartet Tin Machine but his cultural influence remained intact. Excerpted from TIMEs David Bowie: His Life on Earth, an 80-page, fully illustrated commemorative edition. Available at retailers and at Most Popular on TIME 1 Coronavirus Death Toll Rises to 170 in China 2 Americans Trapped in Wuhan Angry With U.S. 3 We Can Only Process Kobe Bryant's Death by Being Honest About His Life Contact us at

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